Technology and Policy

Innovation at Work

For more information on this publication: Please contact Science, Technology, and Globalization
For Academic Citation:Technology and Policy,”

59 posts

Earlier this month, Firmin Debrabander argued in the New York Times that drone warfare creates a democratic disconnect between the American public and its leaders.  This disconnect, for Debrabander, is grounds to question current drone policies.  This is not a new thesis.  Many scholars have expressed this concern since 2009.  Drones permit us to lose track of our leaders’ military decisions.  When no one we know risks life or limb in an international conflict we tend not to care so much.

Congratulations, engineering graduates! By completing this degree, you are becoming part of a very special group: you are becoming engineers. I want to share my own path to engineering; discuss what makes engineering a unique and noble profession; explain your roles and responsibilities as an engineer in our society; and give you some advice for success based on my own experiences. I grew up as one of four children in a family of engineers and mathematicians. My parents would leave science and math and engineering textbooks around the house; they figured that if they exposed each of us to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics enough times, eventually something would take hold.

Diasporas are communities of individuals who share a common heritage, yet are spread throughout the globe.  For instance, I am a member of the Indian diaspora, though I was born and raised in the United States.  My distinguished colleague Calestous Juma is a member of the Kenyan diaspora.  Such diasporas can play a powerful and influential role in international development, because the individuals in such diasporas share special knowledge and relationships within their diaspora communities.  Moreover, diasporans act as informal ambassadors for the United States in their countries of origin.

Industrial control systems might be the most important technology that you have never heard of. They’re computer systems used to monitor and control a range of physical processes within critical infrastructures, such as opening valves or closing circuit breakers. It is no exaggeration to say that industrial control systems are essential to modern life: they help keep our lights on, our water clean, and our trains running on time. But control systems—and the critical infrastructures within which they operate—are increasingly vulnerable to malicious cyber-intrusions.

In a bold move, the UK Government has announced the creation of a £1 million prize for a new “grand innovation challenge.”  According to Prime Minister David Cameron, the award would go to the next “penicillin” or a plane that could fly carbon-neutral across the Atlantic. This effort will complement the £1 million Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. The inaugural prize will be awarded to the inventors of the Internet and World Wide Web in London on June 25, 2013. The prize will not only recognize those who come up with outstanding ideas, but it will also serve as source of inspiration for young people.

The global community is increasingly facing critical challenges in healthcare, energy, sustainability, and agriculture.  These issues are technologically complex, requiring scientific literacy among politicians, policymakers, and populations in both developed and developing nations.  Moreover, these issues demand innovative discoveries, requiring well-trained engineers to both invent creative and cost-effective solutions as well as inform decisionmakers on relevant technical considerations.

I am on my way back from the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. This was a remarkable meeting with an overwhelming intellectual energy. The event was unique in many respects. But foremost, it was anchored by a preliminary meeting of the Grow Africa venture where private enterprises have pledged $3.5 billion in support to African agriculture. This was a serious event that involved heads of state and government from eight African countries. I had the unique opportunity to be part of a small group of people working to connect science and technology with the larger business agenda of WEF.

The Internet, together with the information communications technology (ICT) that underpins it, is a critical national resource for governments, a vital part of national infrastructures and a key driver of economic growth. Over the last 40 years, and particularly since the year 2000, governments and businesses have embraced the Internet, and ICT’s potential to generate income and employment, provide access to businesses and information, enable e-learning and facilitate government activities.

In an increasingly technological world, engineers and engineering are assuming an increasingly prominent role in addressing global challenges.  Engineering solutions will be critical for meeting the demands of a growing population and ensuring a high quality of life for all.  Moreover, engineering education is essential for creating a highly trained workforce worldwide and guaranteeing the next generation of innovative designers.  For these reasons, engineering is commanding greater attention in the policy arena.

Washington can often be the last thing on an entrepreneur’s mind.  And naturally so – the culture of bureaucracy and reputation for being out of touch is the last thing that someone working on the cutting edge of technology wants to think about.  Developing innovative products, especially ones that are data-driven, often requires an out-of-the-box style of thinking that can seem directly antithetical to the lethargic enforcement mechanisms of the government.  But there are many good reasons for those working on the cutting edge to think about the issues that are "top of mind" for law enforcement and regulators during product development - and in Washington, DC, privacy is undoubtedly one of the key issues of the day.